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Considering policy issues around social media and accessibility

Model View Culture has a new article about three online dialogues organized by the National Council on Disability and the US Department of Labor’s Office on Disability Employment Policy. The three topics were:

  1. Advancing Accessibility and Inclusion in Social Media: The User Experience
  2. Advancing Accessibility and Inclusion in Social Media: The Tech Perspective
  3. Encouraging People with Disabilities to Pursue Careers in STEM

Frankly, the answers voted as best in each category are pretty simple things: a prompt to add descriptive alt text to social media images, an indication of whether closed captioning was generated (and likely of poor quality) or done with human oversight, and job shadowing/internship programs. It’s been a decade since I left my job at Gigantic Internet Corporation, but at the time, our projects all had accessibility and internationalization requirements. Now that so much content is produced by individuals or small companies, it seems those factors are often ignored, perhaps because of lack of knowledge as much as lack of empathy. I should know better myself, but I’m sloppy about the alt text on images I share.

The author makes this point:

Accessibility needs to be ‘baked in,’ integrated into every department of a social media company (e.g., software engineering, product management, communication and marketing, usability, user experience, interaction design) rather than ‘layered on,’ added as an afterthought or in the middle of a product’s development

Yes. That’s another reason why the company I talked about in this post made my hackles rise. In choosing to only provide voice chat and not text on a public social platform, they explained that other people could make text chat add-ons, or hey — soon 3D cameras will allow people to use sign language and be understood!  That response still makes me growl in anger. First of all, it’s not only profoundly deaf (and ASL fluent) people who prefer text chat. Others quickly jumped into the forum thread to talk about partial hearing loss, speech impediments, accents, easier intelligibility of a second language in text, and lack of private working spaces.

It saddens me that in 2015, people with disabilities are still fighting for access so many of us take for granted. Another article in the previous month’s Model View Culture, Taking the Social Model of Disability Online addresses that same issue.  It’s an informative piece about accessibility and UX for things like social media, apps, online stores, and games.

I also like an article that she links to: Reframing Accessibility for the Web. That essay begins:

We need to change the way we talk about accessibility. Most people are taught that “web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web”—the official definition from the W3C. This is wrong. Web accessibility means that people can use the web.

Designing for accessibility can be a hard sell to small companies and tiny app studios. I’m thinking of a friend’s company, which has only a couple developers and produces a business service product. I’m sure that if I asked about the accessibility of his software, he’d snort in laughter. Taking the time to learn about, code, and test accessibility on the tiny chance that one of their clients might have an employee with those needs is difficult to justify. (In this particular case, the company has free human phone assistance for someone who couldn’t use the web-based system, though that wasn’t provided with accessibility in mind.)  But, it makes me think of when I needed  to use a cane and a helpful theater staff member directed me away from a short flight of stairs and to the elevator: down a long hallway, around some turns, through a storage area, another hundred yards or so, and there! An elevator. Workarounds are often time consuming and painful, but I suppose they’re better than nothing.

I’ll pay more attention to my alt text from now on.  It’s not much, but it’s easy to do and should be the default rather than the exception. Maybe a little bit of awareness can start to make a difference for others, too.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2015 in Health - Mental & Physical

 

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Wednesday film – The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (full)

This documentary is a sympathetic look at Aaron Swartz, the Reddit co-founder, activist, and programmer who committed suicide while under investigation for bulk downloading of journal articles from JSTOR. Two years later, I’m still troubled by the death of this brilliant, naive young man. Lawrence Lessig wrote a painful post that is very close to my opinion, but informed by being a friend and confidante of Aaron’s.

“The Internet’s Own Boy” is available via a Creative Commons license, so it shouldn’t vanish like last week’s film.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in Side Topics, Video

 

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One Billion Rising 2015: Second Life

The event runs the full 24 hours of February 14th. Stop by to dance, wander through art exhibits and photo galleries, and enjoy live performances and poetry. More info here (links to the event regions will be live once it starts) and you can listen to a Drax Files episode about OBR in SL, too.

One Billion Rising - 14 Feb 2015!

I visited to get my bearings before volunteering and everything looks terrific. A couple of the artistic works are difficult and thought provoking, others are uplifting and hopeful. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and hope to see you there.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2015 in Art in SL

 

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Digital anthro writing, data privacy, and One Billion Rising: it’s a round-up!

Digital Anthropology Bibliography – Interested in reading more academic pieces on humanity and technology? The Digital Anthropology Group has a list of related books and articles that can point you in the right direction. It’s a growing list and I’ve read about ten items on it, so it’s my new “to do” list as well.

Privacy and Surveillance — The Electronic Freedom Foundation has a good page of Surveillance Self-Defense tools and tips.  This is critical information for journalists and people living under repressive regimes, but I think there’s something useful there for anyone who uses digital products.

One Billion Rising in Second Life – The event opens at Friday midnight SLT; stop by anytime on Saturday! I’ll be there for a couple hours tomorrow that morning*. If you want more information or need a map and event listing for the art, music, poetry and other performances, I set up an OBR information kiosk at my closed and perpetually under construction gallery: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Blanda/223/123/112.  Please note that the OBR region has a General maturity rating. Even though BDSM practice can serve a therapeutic role for some people, we ask that collars or other signifying gear be hidden or removed because they could serve as a reminder of violence for others.

Personal Update – This week Jakob had a port installed in his chest for an upcoming round of chemotherapy. I think he’s handling things better than I am right now; I’m a little frayed at the edges. One day at a time….

*I spent all morning knowing it was Thursday, yet thinking that tomorrow was Saturday. It’s been a strange couple of weeks.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Privacy and Security, Research, Side Topics

 

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One Billion Rising 2015 – call for SL volunteers

One Billion Rising is in two weeks, with events around the globe and also in the virtual world Second Life. “One Billion Rising is the biggest mass action to end violence against women in human history.  The campaign, launched on Valentine’s Day 2012, began as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS.  On 14 February 2013, people across the world came together to express their outrage, strike, dance, and RISE in defiance of the injustices women suffer, demanding an end at last to violence against women.  Last year, on 14 February 2014, One Billion Rising for Justice focused on the issue of justice for all survivors of gender violence, and highlighted the impunity that lives at the intersection of poverty, racism, war, the plunder of the environment, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy. Events took place in 200 countries, where women, men, and youth came together to Rise, Release, and Dance outside of court houses, police stations, government offices, school administration buildings, work places, sites of environmental injustice, military courts, embassies, places of worship, homes, or simply public gathering places where women deserve to feel safe but too often do not.”

logo 2015 flickr

This morning I went to OBR volunteer training in SL and learned that we could use more support.  Do you have a little time on Valentine’s Day? The event runs for 24 hours, so there’s plenty of time to volunteer and still celebrate the day. Learn more about OBR in SL, and sign up to help.

Even if you can’t volunteer, don’t miss the events. There will be art, drama, music, drumming, and lots of dancing — and with danceballs, you don’t have to memorize the steps!

I’ve embedded two videos below: one from One Billion Rising in SL 2013, and another longer video that explains OBR in a global context.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2015 in Culture, Gender & Sexuality

 

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Virtual reality to simulate witness POV

Two quick things before I dash off to my yoga class:

– I’m trying to read more long works this year. Essays on the Internet are terrific, but books provide more depth and I enjoy literary fiction, non-fiction, and a book here and there from other genres. In the interest of accountability, I created a page on this blog, 2015 Reading, where I’m jotting a couple notes about each book as I finish. Comments are enabled there if you’d like to make a recommendation or argue that Faulkner adored and respected women.

– I was going to post this last night before it began to spread widely, but I got distracted helping someone with a WordPress problem.  Hmmph.  So, perhaps you’ve already seen it. Since one of the recent filmed beatings of a handcuffed suspect took place in my area, I thought this video that uses virtual reality to simulate a witness point-of-view on a law enforcement beating was particularly fitting.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2015 in In the News, Offline impact, Side Topics, Video

 

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Finding peace without ignorance in a hyperconnected world

Winter sunset in Friesland

Once upon a time, our ancestors knew little beyond the events in their clan or tribe or village. News from the outside world came with the danger of travel and trusting others. Later with improvements in transportation, the growth of cities, and communication technology, when a crisis occurred in a land far away, they still might not hear about it for days, weeks, months, or ever.

It’s now possible to see a global array of horrors and indignities while sipping my morning coffee. I am not compassionate by nature. I am, however, quick to feel outrage at injustice, cruelty, and ignorance. Combined with a love of learning, this creates a personality type that can get quickly overwhelmed. In the past couple years, I’ve found myself breathless with anxiety and rage about some topics. This builds upon the past 15 years of increasing political animosity in my country, which I’ve felt as a stressful tightness in my chest. It doesn’t seem that I’m the only one in this situation. How can we deal with this? How can I?

The easy solution would be to allow myself to be uninformed. When I avoid the news for a while, I’m certainly less anxious and the world goes without me. Yet, that’s unsatisfying. I care about what’s happening to other people in other places. I care about what is being done in my name as an American citizen.

I could choose to be selectively informed. When I talk with my family and some acquaintances, I see what this could be like: to be very knowledgeable about network TV competition shows and local news scaremongering, but almost entirely clueless about the world at large. Many of these folks have favorite supplemental news sources that reflect their political beliefs — NPR or Rachel Maddow, Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. They share things on Facebook that make my jaw drop in amazement. Racist, stupid rants. Cluelessly idealistic things. They post something ignorant to Facebook, then go back to sharing clickbait quizzes. What type of oatmeal are you? I got Maple Walnut!

There are good and bad things about my current approach. I can be terrier-like in trying to make sure I’m informed. It’s not enough for me to see a headline about events in Ukraine. I start there, but then I talk with friends from Europe, I read Pravda online (both English and Russian versions), I study maps, I follow links from Wikipedia to learn more about Russian thinkers and philosophers, I read passionate essays from both pro-Russian and anti-Russian thinkers, I dig deeply into Russian nationalist writing that allegedly inspires Putin, I read summaries of Russian history to refresh my memory of books I’ve read in the past. I look through photo galleries and watch YouTube videos from Ukraine, Crimea, Georgia, and Chechnya. I think, talk, and write until I’m pretty sure I have a reasonable opinion. I can usually put a topic aside then. I can be content keeping up with the news and I don’t need to go digging again.

But sometimes, when the topic is something closer to home, I have a terrible internal struggle. There is a radical revolutionary inside of me. She wants to protest, riot, overthrow! However, she’s surrounded by the rest of me: introverted, shy, mobility-impaired, middle-aged, suburban. My husband and my SL partner add to the voices of reason, reminding me that I’m not much use in a march when I can’t walk a mile without pain. I might want to volunteer to organize protests, but when push came to shove, I’d collapse into guilty shyness. True and true. I have a revolutionary spirit. In another life, I’d be waving a flag atop the barricades. In this life, I use an app on my smartphone to turn up the furnace because I’m a tad chilly. I’m cozy and complacent on the outside, much to the endless disgust of inner me.

I thought about this when I read the essay Orwell’s World from the current issue of Intelligent Life magazine. It inspired me to reread Huxley’s Brave New World; I don’t think I can stomach 1984 again.

“We thought, after the year 1984,(interest in the novel 1984 and Orwell) would flatten out and disappear,” Bill Hamilton says, “and it would all look a bit old-fashioned. After the Wall came down, we thought even more so, he’d look like a creature of history.”

The vision of the future Aldous Huxley had conjured up in “Brave New World”, of a society rendered passive by a surplus of comforts and distraction, seemed more prescient. In 1985, the cultural critic Neil Postman argued in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” that Orwell feared that what we hate would ruin us while Huxley feared that what we love would ruin us. In 2002 J.G. Ballard, reviewing a biography of Huxley, said that “Brave New World” was “a far shrewder guess at the likely shape of a future tyranny than Orwell’s vision of Stalinist terror…‘1984’ has never really arrived, but ‘Brave New World’ is around us everywhere.” …

THE OPPOSITE TURNED out to be the case. As Bill Hamilton says, “It all came roaring back with a vengeance.” At the Q&A with the cast of “1984”, I asked the actors what they had researched in terms of everyday life in 2014 to help them understand the world of the play. One answer was Edward Snowden on YouTube showing how the National Security Agency (NSA) snoops on ordinary Americans, another was news footage from the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, and a third—from the actress playing Julia…—was that the most useful research for her had been living in New York in the wake of 9/11. It wasn’t the horror of the two planes going into the twin towers: it was the fear and paranoia that followed.

Personally, I think we live in a blend of the two. We are observed, manipulated and controlled, but we choose to sate ourselves with bread and circuses. It isn’t selective artificial breeding and childhood Pavlovian training that condition us to spend our time on Dancing With the Stars and Call of Duty, or obsessing over the perfect local organic kale or posting photos to Yelp of our Fiery Doritos Locos Taco Supreme. There are so many ways to distract ourselves. (I would also argue that we use those “trivial entertainments” to build identity, socialize, and connect. They are not meaningless. However, they are choices we make in how to spend our limited time.)

I’m saved from a spiral of despair by a few things. I’m an optimist and I find small pleasures and reassurances daily. I read enough to know that many things are getting better. Quality of life has improved for billions of people during my years on this planet, despite inequality and violence. Segments of our environment are much cleaner and species have been saved. It’s a great luxury to fight for less sexist video games rather than fighting for the right to vote, which was granted to American women after my grandmothers were born.

Perspective is easy to lose and I think that’s one of the risks that comes with having unimaginable quantities of information at our fingertips. If I’ve been wallowing in the horrors of ISIS and the CIA and NSA and other assorted acronyms for a while, I can find some positive news for balance. It doesn’t diminish my outrage but it helps me see the bigger picture again. When my blood comes down from a roiling boil to a simmer, I rationally consider if there is something I can do about the issues troubling me the most. Writing letters or essays, signing petitions, donating money/items/time, or making changes in my own lifestyle — there is often an action I can take, even if it is small.

And sometimes, yes, I take a break. I don’t wake up to BBC World News on the television while skimming the headlines on several major newspaper sites. I read comics and look at pretty pictures instead.  That’s life, too.

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A side note: The image at the top of this post was one I took last night after reading the useful trio of Getting more out of Flickr articles by Caitlin Tobias. It inspired me to set up another account there for Second Life snaps, which then inspired me to stop being lazy about learning how to use the built-in photo tools. I don’t do any post-processing on my images beyond cropping, because I want to provide a realistic view of what you can see inside the virtual world, but I do tweak a lot of settings in the viewer.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2014 in Side Topics

 

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